When you’re on the job hunt, you only have six seconds to hook a recruiter or future employer with your resume.
And with the rise of applicant tracking systems (those doohickeys that scan your resume), figuring out what to include, what to trash, what to highlight and what to downplay on your resume is getting even more difficult.
We already have an in-depth guide to writing a resume that should help you get started. And, we’ve covered some general guidelines for writing a resume for recent grads on writing a resume.
But with more than 7 million job openings in the U.S., we knew it was time to get serious — and give you a shotgun blast of tips that will help you stand out among the 6.5 million job seekers jostling through the labor market.
We chatted with several human resources and recruiting experts to find out the latest trends in resume writing and bring you inside knowledge about how to make yours stand out.
31 of the Best Resume Tips to You Get Noticed
Blasting your resume out likely won’t get you noticed, unfortunately.
That was the case for Austin Garcia-Cooper, a business development associate at Kobie Marketing in St. Petersburg, Florida, who found himself unemployed in 2018 when the startup he worked for went through layoffs.
“In pretty much all of my previous job hunts, I got lucky and was able to rely on various contacts to get me introductions to decision-makers at companies,” he said. “I hadn’t had to lean on a strong traditional resume, as I was able to almost go straight to the interview process in the past.”
This time, he knew he’d have to rely on a strong resume to hook recruiters.
These 31 tips should help you get started on your resume, and guarantee you get noticed.
Just Get Started on Writing Your Resume
Procrastination can be one of the biggest hurdles while writing your resume. It represents the whole of your working life and you want it to be absolutely perfect, right?
You’ll be constantly tweaking the document to tailor it to each job in which you apply, and to incorporate feedback from friends and even HR managers with whom you’ve interviewed. So it doesn’t have to start out perfect — it’s not a static document.
The key is to just sit down and get started on your resume right away, said Colin McIntosh, CEO of Sheets & Giggles, former recruiter, and author of the second most popular Reddit post of all time on the “jobs” subreddit — a resume guide.
“It’s like fishing without bait; make a resume on day one of a job hunt,” he said.
1. Ask yourself a set of questions before getting started
Jessica Hernandez, founder of Great Resumes Fast, suggests that answering a set of questions about your accomplishments and performance will help you get getting in the right mindset to write your resume. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
To get in the right mindset for writing your resume, start by asking yourself — and answering — a set of questions. According to Jessica Hernandez, founder of North Florida-based Great Resumes Fast, these can include:
- What are you most proud of in your professional career? You’ll want to focus on accomplishments rather than specific job duties while filling out your resume. Ask yourself this question about each previous job.
- How did you add value — efficiency, cost saving or just happiness — to the company at which you last worked? Recruiters and HR managers want to see quantifiable results when they look at your previous positions. Did a process you implemented lead to a 10% growth in sales?
- Can you explain what you actually did at your previous positions? For recruiters, clarity is king when it comes to describing your previous positions. Explain to a friend what you did at a previous job — do they understand your role? Avoid jargon and cliches.
2. Block out time to write your resume
Whip out that bullet journal, planner or even your Google calendar and carve out a specific time frame — an hour or two — and sit down and write. Just think: If you don’t have a resume, you can’t get a job and you won’t get paid.
“Don’t wait because you’re nervous about rejection or [have a] fear of failure. Decision paralysis can be a killer when you’re overly worried about bad outcomes.”
3. Spend time poring over the job description/listing
Grab a red pen or highlighter, print out the job description and start highlighting words or phrases you see repeatedly. Once you’ve done that, circle the ones you know you have in common with the description.
For example, if you see “analytical thinker” several times and you consider yourself one, circle that. These will likely be keywords recruiters are looking for on your resume.
4. Reach Out on LinkedIn
Don’t be shy: Make a connection with someone at the company over LinkedIn and ask what key skills or qualities they might be looking for in a candidate. This will help you bolster those keywords.
“I actually did this, but didn’t until after a month or two of searching,” said Garcia-Cooper. “It was super helpful to pick someone’s brain who hires people or got hired for a similar job that you would want; they obviously did something right.”
5. Tweak your resume based on the jobs you’re applying for
Your resume should not be static. That is, you should be customizing it for each job you are chasing.
Garcia-Cooper applied for jobs in a variety of industries, which means he had to tailor his resume for each position. This isn’t uncommon, and you should be prepared to tweak your resume based on the position and keywords in each job description.
6. Pay someone to write it
This may not seem like much of a tip, but if you want to get right to the job hunt, pay someone else to write your resume. Take it from us, writing is hard, and there are plenty of companies that have sprung up out there offering resume-writing services.
Loren Margolis, CEO of Training & Leadership Success, suggests reading reviews of these companies and asking for resume samples before paying for the service.
“One easy rule to follow: If an agency or individual doesn’t show you their templates up front and explain why — for free — they’d want to make certain decisions on your format, don’t work with them,” McIntosh said.
7. Shell out cash for the design
While job hunting, Garcia-Cooper connected with someone through LinkedIn to ask what key skills or qualities they might be looking for in a candidate. “It was super helpful to pick someone’s brain who hires people or got hired for a similar job that you would want.” Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
If you’re not the design-savvy person, it might be worth to pay for a custom template to get you started. Don’t just go with the first free template you find in Microsoft Word.
Garcia-Cooper used Visual CV to design his resume instead of going with a template that’s already out in the wild. This is especially helpful if you’re not the creative type and will incorporate many of the tips we highlight below.
Keep Formatting Simple
It might be tempting to add color, graphics or even a headshot to make your resume stand out. But according to resume experts, it’s best to keep it as simple as possible.
You can always add inline links to your LinkedIn profile or personal portfolio on your resume if you want to show off your creative side.
8. Don’t choose a fancy font
Err on the boring side with your font selection. Recruiters are looking for something easy to read that won’t be distracting — think Arial or Georgia, said Margolis.
9. Stick with a classic color scheme
We get it, you want to wow a recruiter or future employer with your creative spark. But you’re not Elle Woods, and as much as it may hurt, you want your accomplishments to speak for themselves. A fancy font can distract from that.
“I’ve seen a lot more color in resumes recently from applicants,” said McIntosh. “But I wouldn’t recommend that. Black and white is always the way to go.”
10. Use bulleted lists under each previous position
Short bullet points will highlight your accomplishments while making it easy for future employers to scan your work history. Also, it should (hopefully) make you mindful of rambling too much about your job history.
Recruiters will spend between six and 10 seconds reading your resume, so you want to make it as skimmable as possible, Margolis said. Short bullet points will highlight your accomplishments while making it easy for future employers to scan your work history.
11. Write in the software you want, but save it as a .pdf
Submitting a Word document of your resume could cause an applicant-tracking system to ignore it and also give recruiters without Microsoft Office a headache. Save your resume as a .pdf to avoid any problems with cross-compatibility.
12. Stick to 1 1/2 pages or less
There is still some disagreement about resume length among HR professionals.
Margolis said it’s OK to write your resume so it ends up longer than one page — but stop at 1 ½. Recruiters are more inclined to read past the first page than they have been in the past, but remember, they’ll still give you only six to 10 seconds.
McIntosh remains in the one-page-only camp.
13. Be aware of white space
Try to let your resume breathe. Add a few carriage returns between sections, or use a template that formats text so it isn’t crammed together.
Your resume is a single document aimed at summing up your entire professional life, so it’s not a surprise that you’ll want to jam as much information into 1 ½ pages as possible. Don’t do it.
“You don’t want a recruiter to get tired reading your resume because it’s filled with so much font,” Margolis said.
14. Consider a website
Since you only have 1 1/2 pages to sum up your career, you might want to consider making a website to expand on your experience — or include your professional portfolio. Make sure it is optimized for mobile devices, since a recruiter might open it on their phone.
“That is a terrific way to showcase not just your resume, but also your background,” Margolis said. “You can create a story about how well qualified you are for the jobs your targeting.”
The Nitty-Gritty: What to Include on Your Resume
15. Think about accomplishments rather than roles and responsibilities
Hernandez holds up a sample resume from her company, Great Resumes Fast. She suggests avoiding terms such as “proficient,” “experienced” and “skilled in” when describing software or skills. If you have some experience in Excel, just put “Excel” next to a bullet point in your skills section. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
When you’re writing your resume, think more about what you have accomplished at each step of your career rather than what your responsibilities were. Did you edit a daily e-blast or have a hand in launching a first-of-its-kind online newsletter?
If you started with those questions from earlier in this post, you should have a good idea what you accomplished at each position.
16. Keywords are still king
Your resume will likely go through an applicant-tracking system, which will search for those keywords we discussed earlier. Recruiters will do the same as they skim your resume for those six seconds. So include the relevant phrases or words for the job description (those you highlighted and circled earlier) throughout your resume.
“However, while you want to incorporate keywords from the job posting in your resume, my advice is don’t get too crazy,” said Mikaila Turman, a vice president and expert in recruiting at Inflection, an Omaha, Nebraska-based company that uses big data to perform automated background checks.
17. Don’t include the dates in your education section
Regardless of how old you are, you can avoid any chance of age discrimination by excluding dates under the education section of your resume.
“Protect yourself and do not put graduation dates on your resume,” Hernandez said. “It’s pointless to do so.”
18. Consider omitting your first name
Don’t hide your name, but consider using your first initial to avoid any unconscious gender bias as well. McIntosh said this a positive trend he’s noticed in the world of resume-writing.
You should, however, still use your full name in the application and in your email.
19. Eliminate your address
Don’t put your exact address if you’re applying for jobs within the area. The street name and number will just add clutter.
But, what if you’re applying for a job in another state and don’t want to be at a disadvantage due to relocation? In that case, either exclude your location altogether, or add “Moving to:” in front of the city and state of the job to which you are applying.
20. Fill in the gaps
If you were truly unemployed, add a section in which you describe yourself as an independent consultant. Under the description, write that you needed some flexibility to take care of personal matters, McIntosh suggests.
When Garcia-Cooper was job hunting, he was working for his father’s landscaping businesses. But he didn’t include that on his resume because he didn’t think it was applicable experience.
He could have included it, one recruiter told him, because it shows that he was always working.
“I remedied this by realizing that there was relevant experience in almost all of my previous jobs,” he said. “It just came down to framing it correctly.”
21. Show some personality with an interests section
Including a section in which you list your hobbies and interests will help avoid being seen as a faceless resume and give something for recruiters to connect with.
“If you put “Seinfeld,” I promise someone will ask you what your favorite episode of Seinfeld is — (mine’s ‘The Soup Nazi’),” McIntosh said.
22. Don’t be afraid of life links
In the past, including links in your resume might trigger a spam filter through certain email clients, so human resources experts advised against including them. That’s changed, said Hernandez, and including links to your LinkedIn, personal website or portfolio can add depth to your resume without making it too long.
“I would say this very important — especially in 2019,” she said.
23. Get rid of the objective
Consider skipping the objective section at the top of your resume, which just takes up valuable space.
“The truth is, your objective is painfully obvious,” said Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, owner of Feather Communications, a resume-writing business in Wisconsin. “In fact, you wouldn’t be sending a resume if you didn’t want a new job.”
24. Be specific and avoid cliches
There’s nothing more grating for a recruiter than reading a mealy-mouthed jumble of cliches. And with the algorithms within applicant-tracking systems searching for specific words and phrases, it’s always best to be as specific and clear as possible in position titles, accomplishments and job responsibilities.
25. Avoid pronouns and use action verbs
Avoid using “I” or “me” while writing your resume. Use action verbs like “built” or “launched” at the beginning of bullet points.
“Resumes are like no other document you’ll ever write in that you’re supposed to sound like a caveman,” said Margolis.
26. Don’t try to quantify skills
Hernandez said you should avoid terms such as “proficient,” “experienced” and “skilled in” when describing software or skills. If you have some experience in Excel, just put “Excel” next to a bullet point in your skills section.
Make It Bulletproof: Proofread Your Resume
27. Print out your resume in a huge font size
You’ll probably read through your resume so many times on your computer screen that your eyes will cross. Printing it out will help you catch mistakes you might otherwise overlook.
Pro-tip: Use a much larger font to help yourself identify mistakes even more. There’s no quicker way for a resume to end up in the trash than being riddled with grammatical or spelling errors.
“Reading aloud is helpful, too,” said Margolis.
28. Have a friend read your resume
Ask one (or many) of your friends to read through your resume to try and catch any mistakes. You should also ask them to read it for clarity.
Does it convey exactly what you have accomplished? Is it clear what value you will bring to the company?
29. Pay a copy editor to read it
Go on Fiverr or Upwork and look for proofreaders or copy editors to take a look at your resume. Since it’s only one page, you’ll likely pay $5 or $10 — which could be worth it to catch a small mistake before a recruiter has a chance to notice it.
30. Use this naming convention for the file
Here’s how you should name your resume file: “[First name] [Last name] [Resume].pdf”. It will help recruiters identify whose resume they are looking at right away.
31. Ask for feedback if you get rejected
Most recruiters will be happy to provide feedback on your resume if you don’t happen to land that job you were chasing. In fact, that’s how Garcia-Cooper learned he should avoid leaving gaps in his work history.
Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.